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New interest in old Sydney bore
A disused railway tunnel under Hyde Park could soon become Sydney's newest dam.

A scheme to save Sydney's Botanical Gardens from the drought has turned to a water source last used in the 1890s. Sara Phillips reports.

Ian Kiernan is no stranger to crazy ideas. The man who believed Australians would be willing to give up a Sunday to run around picking up litter now has a new challenge.

After the Clean Up campaign was introduced all over the world, Kiernan's enterprising mind turned to the drought and how to make better use of the available water. With a bit of research he discovered an old water source under Sydney that was no longer being tapped, one he believes can provide over 1,350kL a day for non-potable uses.

Sydney's first source of water was the Tank Stream but a growing population of convicts and settlers saw this quickly become dry and polluted. Scouting around for new sources, Major John Busby discovered swamps and an aquifer on the site of the present Centennial Park in the eastern suburbs.

Using the labour of a troop of reluctant convicts, Busby spent 10 years building a tunnel that roughly followed what became Oxford Street, from the swamps to what is now Hyde Park in Sydney's CBD. The tunnel was known as Busby's Bore and it served Sydney's population for nearly 60 years, from 1837 to the early 1890s.

After it was decommissioned because of the increasing infiltration of pollution from unsewered properties, the bore lay dormant until the 1950s when it was connected to the main sewerage network. Busby's Bore now sends 110kL of good water a day out through the Bondi sewage treatment plant.

Kiernan originally discovered the well that time forgot back in 1995, but as the drought was not a pressing issue at the time, people were unconvinced.

But in 2004, Hyde Park, the Botanical Gardens and Domain are wilting under stage 2 water restrictions and suddenly the idea didn't seem quite so crazy.

Tim Entwisle, executive director of the Botanical Gardens Trust is supportive of the idea, strongly backing the use of any recycled water on the grounds.

"We have an exemption [from the water restrictions] but we are really only watering our heritage trees. We are just managing to keep the gardens ticking over," he said.

The plan is to pipe water from Busby's Bore some 750 metres into a disused rail tunnel near St James station, under Hyde Park, which would be dammed to create a 5ML reservoir. In addition, a sewer mining plant from Newsource Water could be installed under the park to provide another 1,000kL a day, while seepage water from the underground Eastern Distributor and the Cross-city Tunnel, currently under construction, would also be pumped to the rail tunnel.

But Matthew Beauregard, self-described amateur rail historian who has explored the caves and tunnels under Hyde Park, is unconvinced. He told WME that while the St James tunnel already pools seepage water and is unofficially known as the St James Lake, the idea of tapping into Busby's Bore is a long shot.

"When we looked inside, there was no water, just a lot of methane. And I'm talking the levels of methane that can't support human life," he said.

Kiernan is undeterred. A recent feasibility study found the project could be undertaken for $3-4 million and Sydney Water, the Botanic Gardens and the City of Sydney are currently reviewing it. Kiernan is aiming for a staged approach and plans to raise the funds through these stakeholders and other "friends". With the kind of contacts and drive Ian Kiernan can rally, expect to see the excavators poised to start work in the not-to-distant future.

More from Rose Read of Clean Up Australia on (02) 9552 6177 or cleanup@cleanup.com.au

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